It’s been a while since the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, were on the cutting edge of American movie comedy; after peaking with 1998’s There’s Something About Mary, they endured a number of box-office disappointments before reinventing themselves as purveyors of heartwarming romantic comedy (that can also appeal to men) with 2005’s Fever Pitch. The brothers’ latest, The Heartbreak Kid, is in the same vein, an adaptation of someone else’s source material (in this case, Elaine May’s 1972 film, written by Neil Simon) and a relatively sweet, conventional romantic comedy, albeit with a few of the duo’s trademark raunchy bits thrown in to appease their fan base.
That the Farrellys’ Heartbreak is so sentimental and earnest is doubly odd, given both their background as gross-out pioneers and the original film’s prickly, cynical tone, with a trio of characters who were all unlikable in their own ways. The Farrellys smooth out the edges of all three main players, especially hero Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller), who in May’s film was a callow, self-centered man in his 20s (named Lenny). The new Eddie is older (much is made of his hitting 40 without getting married) and just plain nicer, more sensitive to the needs of others and more genuine in his desire to find love and companionship.
The smarmy Charles Grodin made Lenny seem disingenuous and creepy in 1972, a guy who only wanted something until he got it, who was setting himself up for a lifetime of disappointments. Stiller, an actor who always seems starved for attention, plays Eddie as needy and insecure, someone whose life is only disappointing because he’s been too afraid to go after what he wants. When Eddie finally makes a bold decision and marries Lila (Malin Akerman, doing her best Cameron Diaz impression), a woman he’s known for only six weeks, he at first feels good about trusting his instincts for once.
That good feeling doesn’t last very long, though, as Lila turns out to be an unstable, controlling shrew, and by the time the two get to their honeymoon destination in Mexico, Eddie is ready to bolt. How convenient then that he meets Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), vacationing with her family and just coming off a break-up. The two hit it off, and Eddie soon realizes that Miranda, not Lila, is the girl he’s been looking for all his life.
Although the implications of falling in love with another woman while on your honeymoon are a bit unsettling, the Farrellys go out of their way to show what a decent, well-meaning guy Eddie is, and how inconsiderate and unbalanced Lila turns out to be. Monaghan, who has truckloads of charisma, makes Miranda into just about the perfect girl, quick-witted, funny, spontaneous and interested in all the same things that Eddie likes. Thus it’s not hard to figure out whom to root for, and Heartbreak easily turns into your typical romantic comedy, with the meant-for-each-other couple kept apart by outside forces and contrived misunderstandings.
As such movies go, it’s mildly enjoyable, although the drawn-out final third, with Eddie embarking on an epic quest to reunite with Miranda, drags on for far too long. The humor is passable if familiar, but what are most jarring are the moments of extreme raunchiness that seem tacked-on and poorly integrated with some earlier draft of the screenplay (not a surprise since the Farrellys share credit with three other writers). Neither as daringly vulgar as the Farrellys’ most well-known work nor as melancholy and jaded as its source material, The Heartbreak Kid ends up in a dissatisfying middle ground, with a handful of amusing bits and one star-on-the-rise performance all it really has going for it.
The Heartbreak Kid
Ben Stiller, Michelle Monaghan, Malin Akerman
Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly